Ernestina Aldana has been a UFCW Local 75 member since she started working at the John Morrell meat processing plant in Cincinnati in 1996. She moved to the U.S. from Guatemala with her husband and son in 1990. The family left Guatemala in search of opportunity and a better life. Ernestina and her husband, who also works at John Morrell, now have three children, the oldest of whom is in college.
“I wanted to become a United States citizen so that I could live and work with freedom and without fear. I wanted my children to have opportunities,” says Ernestina. “But it was the union that motivated me to finally do it.”
Ernestina attended Local 75’s first citizenship clinic on November 8, 2014. With the help of union and community volunteers, she completed her application that same day. On Friday, March 13, Ernestina took her oath of citizenship, along with two other UFCW members, at the federal courthouse in Cincinnati, Ohio.
A 19-year member of UFCW Local 75, Ernestina says union membership has meant more to her than higher wages and job security: “Being a union member gave me hope for the future. Having hope got me here today.”
UFCW International President Marc Perrone being arrested at the demonstration
The action was led by striking immigrant workers at Vegas Auto Spa in Brooklyn and car wash workers from across New York City. Elected officials and faith leaders also joined in support. Demonstrators undertook a 10-block march through the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn and blocked the streets outside Vegas Auto Spa.
“These workers are not just hardworking men and women, they are part of our family. And, like every family, we will stand and fight for them. They’ve earned the right to be treated better and fairly. We stand together to demand not only the better wages they are owed, but the right that every worker has to be treated with dignity and respect on the job” Perrone said. “This is about the right of low-wage and immigrant workers across America to have their voices heard.”
Workers at Vegas Auto Spa have been on strike since November shortly after they sued the car wash owner for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and damages. The workers voted unanimously to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), an affiliate of the UFCW, in January. The owner has repeatedly refused to settle the dispute with workers and engaged in threats and retaliation.
Some workers report being paid less than the minimum wage and not receiving time and a half for overtime. Others report working 70 to 90 hours a week. The workers have gone to court, alleging they are owed back wages and damages. They have also filed complaints with Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) about unsafe working conditions and not receiving the proper safety equipment to deal with the toxic chemicals used to clean cars.
Vegas Auto Spa was the tenth New York City carwash where workers voted to join the RWDSU/UFCW as part of the WASH New York campaign. Demonstrators urged the New York City Council to pass the Car Wash Accountability Act, legislation that would crack down on unlawful employers and bring transparency and accountability to an industry that has a history of mistreating its workers.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) represents more than 1.3 million workers, primarily in the retail and meatpacking, food processing and poultry industries. The UFCW protects the rights of workers and strengthens America’s middle class by fighting for health care reform, living wages, retirement security, safe working conditions and the right to unionize so that working men and women and their families can realize the American Dream. For more information about the UFCW’s effort to protect workers’ rights and strengthen America’s middle class, visit www.ufcw.org, or join our online community at www.facebook.com/UFCWinternational and www.twitter.com/ufcw.
UFCW Local 1208 in attendance at the most recent Moral March; photo via NC State AFL-CIO https://www.facebook.com/ncstateaflcio
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. A diverse group of marchers walked to demand that the state of Alabama uphold the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which granted the right to vote to African Americans.
In recent years, after regressive policies reminicent of laws that spawned the civil rights movement of the 1960’s were passed in the state of North Carolina, concerned citizens and community members mobilized to fight back—and Moral Mondays were born.
Fed up with state lawmakers that consistently tried to undermine the economic mobility of poor and working people, and who cut the Earned Income Tax credit which cut unemployment benefits, and blocked access to healthcare for thousands of North Carolinians, the mass movement now called Moral Mondays involves a diverse group of people and organizations who gather in weekly demonstrations at the state Capitol. They come to defend the rights of all people—to stop the discriminatory creation of barriers to the ballot, protect funding for education and Medicaid, jumpstart stagnant wages, and continue the fight for racial justice. These non-violent protestors continue the tradition of direct action and civil disobedience that activists like Dr. Martin Luther King stood so strongly for in the 60s, and they continually face arrest and jail time.
One such Moral Monday event last year brought together a coalition of over 160 organizations and thousands of people in what was the largest protest gathering in the South since the Selma march. Since then, the movement has spread to other cities in the state and across the country.
In North Carolina, the activists have seen victories as a result of their collective action. There’s been a pay increase for public school teachers. A judge ruled in the people’s favor by blocking an unconstitutional school voucher program. Some state officials, including Gov. Pat McCrory, are backpedaling from their hardline stance against Medicaid expansion. And Raleigh’s District Attorney dismissed the charges against 941 protesters who were arrested for their acts of civil disobedience inside the General Assembly last year. But there is a long way to go. Republican lawmakers are still trying to pass laws that end up hurting the sick, the poor, and minorities.
Most recently, a Moral March for Love and Justice was held in Raleigh on Valentine’s Day. The march was attended by veteran moral marchers like the Reverend William Barber, an inspiring speaker and driving force behind the movement. UFCW Local 1208 members were also in attendance.
Over the past week, we have seen how collective action can really pay off. On Friday, our UFCW International President Marc Perrone made a public statement following the news from Walmart that it would be raising its wage floor: “This is not an act of corporate benevolence. It would not have been possible without the courage of countless workers who are standing together, taking risks, and demanding wages and schedules that can support their families. Walmart is responding directly to calls from workers and their allies to pay a living wage.”
AFL-CIO Communications Director Eric Hauser also released a statement that said, “In the past 24 hours, Walmart workers got a raise, IBEW and CWA workers settled their strike with FairPoint, and United Steelworkers made safety at oil refinery plants a national issue. One 24 hour period shows how much progress can be made when workers come together to speak with one voice.”
It takes bravery, dedication, and resilience to stand up to those who try to assert unjust power over us, but the likes of Walmart workers who won a wage increase this week, community supporters who helped make it happen, and civil rights activists from the 1960s to today show us time and time again that when we stand together, we are powerful.
This video clip provided by NC Policy Watch provides a glimpse into the many causes people turned out to fight for on the February 14th Moral March in Raleigh, N.C.